With so much talk about green, environmentally friendly packaging, how do you separate truth from fiction?
Consultant JoAnn Hines, aka the Packaging Diva, checks in with six myths and realities about what’s green packaging and what’s not.
What is environmentally friendly packaging? “The truth is most
people don’t really know,” Hines says. Hines begins her list with her personal favorite.
1. Less packaging or no packaging makes smart eco sense.
I get so annoyed when people say leave the packaging at the
store or don’t use any packaging at all. The truth is that
products that we use or consume need packaging to protect,
convey, keep sanitary and secure and even educate us about
what’s inside. Packaging is integral to our modern lives. When
someone complains about excess packaging I ask them this simple
question. You brushed your teeth today didn’t you? I rest my
2. Compostable: means you can throw it out in the back
yard and it will disintegrate. The truth is this is one of the
most misunderstood packaging phrases and the industry doesn’t do
a good job explaining it either. Consider what happened with the
Sun Chips compostable package. Consumers expected one thing and the reality was something else. In most cases compostable applies to
a set of controlled conditions in a special facility for the
packaging to degrade. The material itself sometimes has unique
disposal issues because of limited composting facilities.
3. Packaging is 50%-60 % of the waste stream. I see this number
bandied about and it’s untrue. Packaging accounts for around
30%-35%. These companies that claim they sell their products with
zero contribution to the waste stream is a misnomer. They may
not have the products in the store packaged but they certainly
use packaging to get them there undamaged and ready for sale.
4. Recyclability is the only answer. Unfortunately although
recycling packaging makes sense, in many cases the
infrastructure isn’t in place to make it a widespread practice.
Consumers have to want to recycle too. In many cases it’s simply
too much trouble to save and dispose of in a recycling facility.
Another quandary, washing out containers to recycle (you are
using energy and water so where’s the eco win?)
5. Sustainable packaging will solve all our environmental
problems. This is a lofty goal to aspire to; unfortunately the
technology isn’t quite there yet. Companies have significantly
reduced the amount of packaging used. A good example is the
“ultra detergents’ that offer a concentrated product in a much
smaller packaging container, reducing significantly the amount
of packaging used an what goes into the waste stream.
6. All plastic packaging is bad. Not true. There are so many new
compounds and formulations that have been introduced. Companies
are seriously looking at ways to not only reduce the amount of
plastic used but alternative methods for disposal and reuse.
I might mention here too that in many cases the eco plastic
alternatives use more energy to manufacture and have disposal
issues of their own.
The bottom line, Hines says, “is that we need packaging. The industry needs to do a better job in explaining what is environmentally friendly and what is not.”